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Subspecies of Painted Turtles
Painted turtles, or Chrysemys picta are the most widespread turtles in the United States. There are four different subspecies of painted turtles differentiated by color, size, and range.
Map of the range of painted turtles in the United States. Adapted from a map by Jeff Dawson.
The eastern painted turtle, Chrysemys picta picta, has seams that are aligned on its upper shell. This is very unique, since all other turtles in the U.S. have alternating seams. The bottom shell is typically plain yellow. This subspecies normally has a length between 5 and 7 inches (Dawson 2000, Kohen 1992).
The midland painted turtle, Chrysemys picta marginata, is close to the same size as the eastern painted turtle. It has a dark figure on its bottom shell that lightens with age, and has decorative designs around the outside of the top shell (Dawson 200, Kohen 1992). Some believe this species is a hybrid of the bellii and dorsalis species that interbred after the last glacial recession (Ultsch et. al. 1985).
Midland painted turtle as juvenile (bottom) and adult (top). Picture taken by Andrew L. Shiels.
Used with permission of Andrew L. Shiels, PA Fish & Boat Commission.
The southern painted turtle, Chrysemys picta dorsalis, is the smallest subspecies with a record length of 6.1 inches. It has a red or yellow stripe down its upper shell, and a plain yellow lower shell (Dawson 2000, Kohen 1992).
The western painted turtles, Chrysemys picta belli, is the largest subspecies with many adults over 7 inches. The upper shell is green with faint markings, while its lower shell is red or yellow with intricate dark markings (Dawson 2000, Kohen 1992).
Habitat and Food
All subspecies prefer shallow, slow-moving ponds, marshes, and swamps with muddy bottoms. They are mostly aquatic animals, although they do bask in the sun for hours during the day to maintain their temperature (See Figure 3 on the After the First Winter page) (Shiels 2000).
As juveniles, painted turtles are more carnivorous, and as older turtles (they have a life-span of about 5 to 10 years) they are mostly herbivores. However, they are omnivores and will eat almost anything from aquatic plants to slugs and dead fish (Dawson 2000).